Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are true New Testament treasures, displaying the unwavering devotion of the early Christian church. Under persecution, these believers showed deeply rooted faith and an inspiring commitment to the principles and ideology of Christianity. But just like churches today, false teachings and misrepresentation of the gospel created divisions and confusion. Why was Paul so dedicated to the early Thessalonian church? What was the real significance behind Thessalonica? And what effect did these letters have on the church as we know it today?
Following Paul’s first mission trip, which included Barnabas’s home of Cyprus, Paul decided to utilize a well-known road and trade route called the Via Egnatia. This Roman built road basically connected Rome to the East. Thessalonica and Philippi lay right in the middle of this major route. These cities were rapidly growing as a result of lying dead center of all this traffic going back and forth from the Adriatic Sea to the Roman colonies as far east as present-day Istanbul. Even today, Thessalonica (present day Thessaloniki) is the second largest city in Greece. In no small part to the Via Egnatia.
For context, pretty much anyone going west to Rome, or East to places like Istanbul had to go through these two cities that Paul chose. Pretty genius really! Not only are you spreading the gospel to individuals who are traveling back and forth throughout the most populated areas in the world, but you are also establishing churches right in the middle of a major trade route and seaport, who continued to reach these travelers once Paul moved on to his next journey.
Word spread so quickly to Jews and gentiles alike, that Paul, Timothy and Silas were ran out of town. Paul was later smuggled away to Athens, and he later made his way to Corinth where he wrote two letters; we know them now as 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Paul wrote these letters because word was spreading throughout Macedonia of the Thessalonian’s faith and commitment to Jesus. Originally, he sent Timothy back to encourage the Thessalonian Christians, but when Timothy returned, he had nothing but great news on their faithfulness; inspiring 1 Thessalonians.
Why are these Letters so important?
Paul’s letters are some of our earliest writings we have, recorded accounts that show us the first steps of growth following the resurrection of Jesus. They provide us with context of the early church, the struggles, and the oppression faced by faithful believers following the death of Christ. God used these faithful churches to continue the spread of Christianity to what we know today, and we can read first-hand accounts of these first-generation Christians. It is estimated that these two letters were written less than twenty years after Christ returned to Heaven!
These Christians were the beginning, potentially alive during the crucifixion. On these trade routes they very well may have heard stories of miracles and sermons performed by the Messiah from eyewitnesses. Paul wasn’t always preaching on street corners; he went into the Jewish synagogues. Imagine what it would take for someone to convince you to leave the only faith you had ever known and believe that the Son of God walked the Earth, performed miracles, lived a sinless life, died on the cross only to rise three days later and fulfill more than a millennium of Biblical prophecy.
Considering all that, realize that Paul’s mission trip lasted only three weeks! In that short time, these Christians in Thessalonica turned from their prior faiths, devoted themselves to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and received the Holy Spirit. All while under persecution from their own community. So, why were they so committed in such a short amount of time? Today, our faith is questioned as folklore. Perhaps it is the effect time has on eroding the truth. But these early Christians turned to Christianity in three weeks, remained faithful even when persecuted and were willing to die. Perhaps they were a witness to something unearthly and never looked back.
20 years is too long to remember, isn’t it?
Do you think that 20 years is too long to remember something? When you hear the date September 11, 2001, anything significant come to mind? That was twenty-one years ago. I may speak for myself, but I can remember where I was, what I was doing, and definitely the emotions pulsing through my body. These early believers are our link, our proof that Jesus was the Messiah. They lived through the greatest event in human history and through their unwavering faith, we can conclude that Christ’s life and death was no small phenomenon but an event that shook the world.
What to Look for in Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians?
All the New Testament was divinely inspired. We can read each book and discover God’s will for our lives and how to apply Christ’s teachings on our path to eternal life with Him. But Paul’s letters offer a very unique perspective in the formation of a unified body. We see struggles of early Christians going through some of the same problems we still face today and have Paul’s letters to teach and guide us to God’s will for the church.
Paul spoke to the Thessalonians about faith, hard work, cooperation, love, resisting temptation, salvation, evangelizing, and preparing ourselves for the second coming. He showed us the teamwork required in ministry, the importance of unceasing prayer, and the impact we can make by humbling ourselves and allowing God to use us for His great purpose.
Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians: New Testament Treasures
These precious letters are more than just a story of encouragement. They teach us that the strength of the church rests on its people. We are each here, as members of the body, to keep each other accountable. We learn together as the holy spirit speaks His words of wisdom in our ears. Church members support you in your walk with Christ and pick you up when you stumble. We do not have to struggle alone, that is the true value of church.
Our mission is to spread the gospel, but to also bring in those who need to hear it. Not with judgement but with love and acceptance. Everyone comes to God broken and with their baggage, especially Paul (Saul). But salvation starts us on the road to sanctification. Thessalonians are a great example of what God can accomplish in impossible situations and therefore, a true New Testament treasure worth exploring again and again. I highly recommend a bible study on 1 and 2 Thessalonians; it is worth a second look.
Recommendations: A great deep dive study into Thessalonians is from “Study and Obey”. But if you are looking for an inspirational family devotion or small group discussion, also consider “Immersion”.
Written by Jon Frederick, but only God made it possible